Following Up With a Second Act – Age Discrimination Work-arounds

Kevin’s comments on my last article, Choosing Your Career: “Refuse to Choose!” – A Book Review, recently got me to thinking: the job market can be an awfully rough place for older workers. I’ve heard stories of people as young as their 40s (hardly any older than me!) being told by job interviewers that they are “too old” for the positions they are interviewing for. Even though age discrimination in the workplace is legally forbidden, employers utilize some creative age discrimination work-arounds to get around these barriers.

Age Discrimination Work-arounds

Multiple job hunters have claimed that interviewers, rather than ask for the age of the applicant, which they are prohibited by law from doing, will ask instead for the year the applicant graduated from high school, and thereby get a pretty good estimate of the applicant’s actual age.

Following Up With a Second Act - Age Discrimination Work-arounds
Following Up With a Second Act – Age Discrimination Work-arounds
Many employers, rather than utilize the accumulated wisdom and experience of older workers, would rather take on younger ones that cost less.I’ve also heard that employers prefer younger workers over older ones, simply because younger workers are more likely to “go along” with whatever the company dictates and less likely to “talk back” to their bosses. Of course, this isn’t to imply that all younger workers are super-agreeable with their bosses and all older workers are adversarial – it’s simply the reality that these prejudices continue to exist to this day.

(Editor’s Note: A more tangible reason why older workers are excluded from hiring has to do with health insurance costs. Since older workers typically file more medical claims, employers prefer to keep their staff on the younger side as a way to keep health insurance premiums lower. – Kevin)

The Recession Might Not be Over for Workers over 55

A recent article by Mark Miller at Fortune magazine, Older American Workers Are Still Struggling to Find Jobs, discusses the plight that many older workers are facing in the current job market. As Kevin and others have pointed out, economic statistics, especially on unemployment, are “slippery” at best, devious at worst.

Miller points out that while the “official” unemployment rate for workers over the age of 55 was a mere 3.5 % –when other considerations are factored in, such as part-time workers who want to work full-time, those who are unemployed and discouraged and have given up looking, etc., — the real unemployment/underemployment rate for these folks is much closer to 12 %.

Why Your Career Isn’t Over Because You’re “Over the Hill”

This absolutely doesn’t mean that older workers can’t continue to fulfill a valuable niche or find their “true calling.” Many older workers may fear that they may be “over the hill” and have little left to contribute. Consider, however, the number of individuals who found success later in life, which includes such noteworthy personalities as:

Martha Stewart – published her first books on home décor and entertainment at age 40. Before that, she spent years working in the catering business.

Rodney Dangerfield – got his first “big break” in comedy appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show at age 46. Before that, he was working as a salesman and struggling to find gigs while accumulating thousands of dollars in debt.

Betty White – the award-winning comedy actress first became a cultural icon on The Mary Tyler Moore Show at age 51.

Duncan Hines – wrote his first food and hotel guides at age 55. Before that he was a traveling salesman for a Chicago printer.

Miguel de Cervantes – published his most famous novel, Don Quijote, at age 58. Before that, he served in the Spanish navy and struggled to find work that would support himself.

Col. Harland Sanders – franchised his Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant chain at age 62. Before opening his restaurant he had struggled or failed in other ventures, including being laid off from the Michelin Tire Company.

Laura Ingalls Wilder – published the first of her “Little House” books at age 65. Before that she had worked as a schoolteacher but found it wasn’t to her liking.

Peter Roget – his book Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases was first published when he was 73. Before that he worked as a physician. Much of his work on the thesaurus was done while he was battling serious depression.

Anna Mary Robertson “Grandma” Moses – began her painting career at age 78. Before that she made embroidery and sold potato chips.

Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from these well-known individuals. If you are finding that employers are not giving you a “fair shake” because of your age, maybe the time has come to “blaze your own trail” and find your own path to doing work that will reward you and contribute to the world.

Take heart, older workers! You’re not done yet – you might just need to start getting ready for your next act!

( Photo by hnnbz )

4 Responses to Following Up With a Second Act – Age Discrimination Work-arounds

  1. (No particular offense against the author) but I hate articles like this.

    Something akin to “100 year old completes skydiving lessons!” or “Grandfather climbs Mt. Kilimanjaro!” or “98 year old still running the family laundry after 150 years!”.

    The reason these people make front page news, is because almost no other older people are doing stuff like this. And most of those older people not doing this stuff have watched many of their compatriots buried over the years.

    Seriously, how many people are going to blossom into Grandma Moses after seven or eight decades?

    To hold up these exceptions as a paradigm all normal people should aspire to, is dishonest and misleading. Most of us are just tired and worn out.

    Exceptions should not be pitched as a the norm. Stop with the self-help book mantra promoting ‘You can be anything you want, just go do it!’

    Pollyanna was a Hollywood movie.

  2. Hi Marissa – I get where you’re coming from, I don’t like such articles either. Nor do I believe them. But that isn’t the case with this article. It’s an attempt to alert readers that they may have to re-invent themselves in the aftermath of a job loss or a career crisis. There are not a lot of places for people over 50 to go in this economy, so sometimes you have to take a chance on something completely new. Also, most of the examples provided are of people under 60, with a few older examples just to prove what’s possible. People need to hear this message in this day and time. We’re not talking about climbing mountains here, we’re talking about re-learning how to survive. That’s an incredibly important discussion that doesn’t take place often enough.

    And for what it’s worth, I didn’t start my career as a blogger/writer until I was 51, so I’m an example who can testify to the validity of Steve’s claims. Me and the mortgage business were through with each other, and I had to make some serious choices. Also, I had no prior training, credentials or experience in writing, but here I am. People need to know that these transitions are possible, and that they aren’t just made up stories, or chronicles of exceptional people. Believe me when I tell you, me and “exceptional” don’t even sit in the same room. Back in high school my guidance counselor, in discussing career and school options in my senior year, gave me the kind advice, “you’re no superman”. You have to choose not to believe limiting assessments like that, even when they come from someone who is deemed to be an expert.

  3. Hi, Marissa! I can see that my article left you with some negative impressions, and I realize I didn’t clarify some things in the article as well as I could have.
    Believe it or not, I’m not really a fan of “self-help mantras” either! Life is much more messy and complicated than that, and for an awful lot of us, there’s really no easy way to navigate from point A to point B. Of course, as you mentioned, most of us will never achieve the fame or wealth or recognition of these individuals – your comment is making me think of more “regular” folk who made major changes in career at mid-life – hopefully I can bring you more of their stories in the future! And since I am always interested in hearing other people’s stories, let me ask you: what is making you feeling tired and burnt out? Perhaps Kevin or myself or others here can speak to your concerns in future articles.

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